Jail re-entry program
At 37, a mother of five children has turned her life around, thanks to the Shawnee County Reentry Program.
"You have to decide for yourself what you want to do, and from there, the program is helpful in achieving that," said Jeanette Brown, of Topeka.
In June, Brown was released from the Topeka Correctional Facility after serving four years.
"I ended up catching him with another woman and ended up flipping out, and I stabbed him, and so that's how I ended up in prison."
Facing a maximum sentence of 15 years, Brown said she pleaded guilty and received a 55-month sentence.
Leaving her children - now ages 9 to 17 - was tough.
"That was the hardest thing for me. Just being a mom and knowing the choices that I made put me there," she said.
While incarcerated, she took classes through the re-entry program such as family reunification and life skills.
"Everything that you can possibly think that you will be faced with, they had a class for it," she said.
She said a visit from an ex-offender made a lasting impression. He suggested that she find support or she'd be back in jail. He also said life wouldn't be easy on the other side.
"He just told it how it is," Brown said. "I really got a lot out of that class from him."
Brown found support from two people associated with the re-entry program.
She was matched with a prison nurse who not only became her mentor but like an extended family member. On Friday afternoon, Brown was baby-sitting the mentor's grandchildren.
"It's somebody who makes a difference," Brown said.
The other person is her parole officer.
"I wouldn't trade him for nothing in the world," Brown said. "He gets on my nerves, but he is somebody who pushes you to your limits because he knows you can do better. If you feel you can't do it by yourself, he will be there, right by your side, helping you."
She said those associated with the correctional facility seemed more like social workers than prison guards - willing to give prisoners a second chance.
That's the goal of the re-entry program, which started as a pilot program in Shawnee County in 2003. Sedgwick County just launched a re-entry program last year and Wyandotte plans to open one in early summer.
"Instead of locking them up and throwing away the key, the state is looking at more of a case-management approach with these individuals, trying to reteach them some more positive social skills," said Sharidy Fluke, director of the Shawnee County Reentry Program.
Program officials work with prisoners for about 18 months before release and at least six months after.
So far, it has worked for Brown. She is a full-time mother and baker. In December, she finished the re-entry program.
"I am doing good," she said. "I've been on my job for a year since I got my job while I was on work release. I have my kids, and I am looking for a bigger place. I am just facing everyday problems like everybody else does."